The United States Must Build All Lineups around Christian Pulisic
Christian Pulisic should be the first name on the United States’ team sheet, and he should be on the team sheet in the Number 10 role.
When Bruce Arena first deployed Pulisic as a Number 10 beneath Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, what Arena did was set the United States up to showcase its best passing and best attacking play ever.
Recently, when the United States tied Mexico 1-1 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Arena was somewhat forced to not use his first-choice players because they were operating on only a few days rest from a previous World Cup qualifier, but Pulisic nevertheless started. In the 3-4-3 formation used by Arena, Pulisic was operating out on the left wing in an attacking triangle, and this lessened his impact to attack Mexico and facilitate the American attack. Pulisic didn’t have as many touches on the ball out left, and he wasn’t in a position to feed Bobby Wood up top at striker as much as Pulisic could have in the middle.
Rotating players was excusable, but there was no need to use Pulisic out left or to use one less midfielder. Arena made the wise decision to start Kellyn Acosta in the center of the midfielder with Michael Bradley, and with Acosta helping out Bradley, there was no need to use three center backs instead of two. With the set-up used, there was a big gap between where Acosta and Bradley were and where Wood was up top.
This game against Mexico, while a good draw for the U.S., nevertheless showed how much the U.S.’s passing and attacking ability weakened with Pulisic out wide instead of behind the striker or strikers, and the team’s passing was certainly worse with Darlington Nagbe on the bench as one of the rotated out players.
Given Pulisic’s abilities and importance for the U.S., some minor criticism of Arena’s tactics against Mexico is warranted. The U.S. did earn an important point for the draw, but that point likely mostly came from an incredible and sensational golazo from Bradley.
Starting Pulisic as the center attacking midfielder should take precedence in an Arena lineup for the United States, and the real decision for Arena going forward will be whether or not he starts Acosta again with Bradley in more of a 4-2-3-1 or if starting two forwards is key for Arena. Whatever Arena goes with, Pulisic must be used centrally to orchestrate the American attack and to score and create goals.